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Desperate Measures - 19th Century Working Women

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"Milling Around"

Women working in a cotton mill in the 19th Century

Millworkers in the 19th Century

Factory work was looked down on as the lowest occupation, next to prostition.  In fact, many factory workers were considered prostitutes - they were the only working women who had some freedom outside of their workplace.  Governesses, seamstresses and domestic workers all resided with their employers and were often not allowed any visitors. 




Average age of the factory worker was  12-20 years old


More women and children then men in many industries, however men were paid more and generally held the more skilled jobs.


The temperature ranged in the factories from 84-140 degrees farenheit


The air quality was poor - unventilated air was filled with fluff and dust in the cotton mills, or worse in foundries and paper mills. Poor ventilation was common


All work was done standing

There were no separate rooms for dressing, eating or washing.  The woman wiped the dust off their meals and ate them as they stood.


The equipment was unsafe – apron ties, and hair frequently got caught in moving parts.


Hours of work varied  - Average in a cotton factory in 1833 was from 6am to 8pm with an hour for meals.  However, during busy times, the hours would be longer.  Up to 18 hours.

1851 – 45 percent of all women workers were in manufacturing.  Half were in textiles. 

Manchester, England in the 19th Century

The cotton trade in Lancashire, England

Charles Dickens called the manufacturers association:


“The National Association of  the Protection of the Right to Mangle Operatives”.

"Factory females have in general much lower wages than males, and they have been pitied on this account with perhaps an injudicious sympathy, since the low price of their labour here tends to make household duties their most profitable as well as agreeable occupation, and prevents them from being tempted by the mill to abandon the care of their offspring at home”

 Dr. Mitchell’s report – the philosophy of manufactures 1834.

This weg page was created as a class assignment for English 3622 - "Women's Writing" at The University of New Brunswick in Saint John.  Below is a link to the course blog.  Check it out to see what we've been up to.

Course Blog for English 3622 - Winter 2005